I think Jesus will have a hard time getting into some of our churches. He attracts the wrong folks, you know – a magnet attracting the lost, loose women, foreigners, the morally suspect. He never played well with church leaders. Some say he partied too much – drank wine, laughed – there go the Baptists and Methodists. He never married, settled down, and had children, putting him at odds with Focus on the Family. He never held a job we know of. He had his own version of the Affordable Care Act. He did read his Bible and attend church regularly. He was popular for a while, but not with people who mattered. His sermons could bring out the worst in people. His hometown folks once tried to throw him over a cliff, just for saying God has no favorites. Avoid saying that to folks who think they are. It’s in the Bible –I’m not making this stuff up.
Jesus has crossed the border into Capernaum – a trade center, an unusual place – where Jews and Gentiles get along like old friends. A Roman Commander has a sick servant. He fears he’ll die. Health care options are slim. Priests control the health delivery system – healings, forgivings and all. Priests don’t work on gentiles, though. The Centurion hears Jesus has wondrous healing powers, and he’s nearby. He calls up his Jewish friends and asks them to bring Jesus to his house, to heal his friend. They find Jesus.
This Centurion is a bit suspect. He has more heart than sense. He’s not your run-of-the-mill oppressor. Herod won’t like that. He funds a synagogue he can’t even join. I’d let him. He’s the sort of chap you want for a member – a leader, big heart, asks for a pledge card. “He’s worthy of your help, Jesus. Come back with us.” Some said Jesus has more heart than sense, too.
Before Jesus arrives – the Centurion sends friends with a new message: “On second thought, I am unworthy; besides my housekeeper didn’t come this week;” that’s not so far-fetched. Entering a Gentile’s house renders a Jew unclean – so the unclean house thing would work. “Lord,” they add, “he says if you’ll say the word, his servant will be healed. Like you, he gives a command and things get done. Only you have a higher power and more authority.”
Luke doesn’t say what the word is. It’s a secret, maybe only for Jesus. We don’t hear anything from Jesus until he turns to the crowd in amazement. “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” Saying that sort of thing nearly got Jesus killed in his hometown – that bad sermon, you remember. Here with gentiles, Jesus hasn’t asked if anyone believes. He sets no pre-conditions, like having faith to earn a miracle. It just happens – wordless or not. The friends return to find the servant healthy.
How did he do that? What was the magic word? Those are interesting questions that lead us down a wrong path. The magic of this healing isn’t the point. Miracles serve a greater purpose – to reveal what life looks like in God’s kingdom.
Miracles point us on beyond what’s entertaining and supernatural. They are like signs, markers that open us to a larger world. They are parables of a sort – revealing something’s afoot we can neither explain nor prove. Wherever Jesus goes, he redefines normal, brings a larger reality into ours. To him no one is an outsider, even Roman oppressors. Actually, this is God’s normal from the beginning.
We do need miracles – which may seem supernatural to us, but natural to Jesus. He’s got a better handle on what God does. Actually, the only miracle we really need is Jesus’ resurrection. Just believe that one. Through the window of the resurrection we begin to see how the past makes sense, how lives get changed. We see more clearly what God is up to. We see God in all things – and suddenly the world is miraculously alive.
But some couldn’t see God was in Jesus – or didn’t want to see. They kept pushing Jesus back into the tomb, even today. His radical religion of relentless love for all isn’t always welcomed, you know. He hands out divine goodies to the wrong people, saying that’s God’s will; gushes all over a gentile oppressor’s faith – better than any he’s seen in Israel – just believing Jesus can say the word and get things get done.
Taking Jesus seriously can get you thrown out of some churches, probably ones you don’t want to go to anyway. Jesus keeps thinking we’ll see him in everyone. When we eat a meal in his name, he says we’ll welcome all to the table, as messy as that can look. He thinks we’ll love each other as he does. And when we do – when all this happens, well that’s how healing comes in the Kingdom of God. Yeah, Jesus would have a hard time getting into some churches thinking this way.